When Bec Keleher woke up, she realised straightaway there was something wrong with her one-month-old son, Adam.
Everything had been normal during the night: the 25-year-old mum had been up at 1am to feed, burp and change her newborn, she’d put him back in his cot in her bedroom, then they’d both drifted off to sleep.
But by the time she woke up next, she realised her milk was overflowing – her son hadn’t stirred again in the night, and it was now 7am. She crossed the room to Adam's cot, her heart sinking when she saw his little face.
“His lips were already blue,” she remembers. “I could see it straight away.”
With her husband Ken away for work, she sent her five-year-old son, Joshua, to her friend Patrina’s house. Patrina was Adam’s godmother and had been there for his birth, and lived just across the road in the small Queensland town of Clifton. While he was gone she frantically spoke to the 000 operators.
“I tried CPR, I tried everything to get him back,” she says. “It was just a nightmare.”
Joshua returned home without Patrina – she hadn’t heard his knocks at the door – and an ambulance arrived soon after. The officers worked on Adam, but it was too late. The baby was gone.
Her son died in 2003, 10 years ago now, but Bec remembers the events of that horrific morning with crystal clarity – the police arriving; the priest conducting a blessing as her son had yet to be christened; her mum riding in the ambulance with her and Josh as they drove her son’s body to the hospital.
And the same thoughts still run through her head. “You think, ‘What did I do wrong? I did everything right, I didn’t smoke, I didn’t drink when I was pregnant, I put him on his back [to sleep] … my pregnancy had been good, with no dramas … so why?’” she says.
The autopsy gave no answers, either: there was nothing medically wrong with her son, who had given his very first smile to Bec and Patrina just hours before he'd been put to bed that night.
“He just decided to stop breathing,” Bec says. The official cause of death was, of course, SIDS.
Bec and her husband Ken struggled through the days that followed, looking after Joshua with the help of family and friends in their close-knit community in the Darling Downs.
The police contacted SIDS and Kids, and a counsellor from the charity made the two-hour drive from Brisbane to talk to them face to face. “It does help to get it off your chest,” Bec says. Even now, she sees a counsellor to talk about how the loss of her child impacted her life.
A few weeks after Adam’s death, a friend suggested they do something to help raise money and awareness for SIDS and Kids. Bec decided to hold a fundraising bowls day – Ken had always been an avid bowler, and Bec had gotten into the sport when the couple had gotten together.
They held their first bowls day that year, a few months after Adam's passing, and Bec has organised it every year since. The local footy team, the Wattles, also got involved, wearing red socks for their annual ‘Red Day’ game.
The town of just over 1000 people got in the spirit too, helping raise over $20,000 in 10 years. Bec hopes to raise $5000 at this year’s event, held tomorrow, but won’t be doing it again next year.
“I’ve done my best for SIDS and Kids, now I need a break for me,” she says. “I just need to look after myself.”
She’s not ruling out going back to organise it again – maybe in the year that Adam would have turned 15, she says, or for what would have been his 21st birthday.
As the years go by the grieving process continues, and “you never get over it”, she says. This year has been especially trying for the couple.
“You think, ‘By now he’d be doing this … playing football, or playing bowls with his dad. It’s very hard.”
The birth of two more children – Emma, now eight, and Anthony, six – brought the family happiness. Not that it was easy when they were babies; Bec says she especially had a heard time when Anthony was a newborn.
“It wasn’t so bad with Emma, because she was a little girl, but [with] Anthony, it was a roller coaster … I was a nervous wreck,” she says.
It wasn’t until Anthony was more than a month old that Bec finally allowed herself to relax. “Then I thought, ‘He’s here, he’s doing well’ … I found that everything was okay with him.”
Bec is still involved in SIDS and Kids network, as she and her mum are peer supporters. This means that if there are any SIDS deaths in the region, they will go and sit with the family until the trained SIDS and Kids counsellors can arrive to talk to the grieving parents.
So far, though, they haven’t been called upon.
“But it’s good that we haven’t had to do it,” Bec says. “There hasn’t been anyone else [like us] in the region. So that’s really good.”
To help support SIDS and Kids Queensland, donate here at any time, or buy Red Nose Day items where you see them today.
Read more about the SIDS and Kids Safe Sleep guidelines.